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‘Rent’ actor speaking tonight

Anthony Rapp, best known as Mark Cohen from the hit musical Rent, will speak about his on- and off-stage experiences during the early days of the musical – when it first began to gather momentum – but also when Rapp lost his mother to cancer and Rent writer Jonathan Larson to heart complications. Rapp’s speech, based on his book Without You – A Memoir of Love, Loss and the Musical Rent, begins at 7 p.m. in the Sun Dome Corral and is free to the public. In addition to discussing his experiences with love and loss, Rapp will also delve into issues surrounding AIDS and homosexuality and the way they have impacted his life, much like the lives of the characters in Rent, which follows a group of bohemians in the East Village through their struggles with life, love and AIDS.

“His topic covers a diversity of issues,” said Mike Dolinger, the Director of the University Lecture Series, which sponsored the event. “He speaks to a variety of different people and gives so many different perspectives. There will be a little potpourri of everything.”

Performing in Rent, which revolves around the theme of coping with loss, became a cathartic experience and ultimately helped Rapp overcome the pain of dealing with his mother’s long illness and eventual death from adrenal cancer. His speech will ultimately uplift the audience, Dolinger said.

“He’s a very motivational, inspirational speaker,” he said.

In past speeches, Rapp has mixed in lighter fare with the heavier topics, singing Rent’s most familiar song, “Seasons of Love,” a cappella.

Rapp, who has also appeared in many movies and television shows, advocates for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights off-stage, and stresses equality and acceptance in his discussions. In past speeches, Rapp has talked about his own coming-out process as a homosexual in the late ’80s, when frank discussions about sexual orientation were less common.

Rapp’s lifelong career in acting has also included roles in movies and productions such as A Beautiful Mind, Dazed and Confused, Little Shop of Horrors and Adventures in Babysitting. He has also appeared on television shows The X-Files and Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, in addition to releasing an album with his band, Albinokid.

A half-hour question and answer session will follow Rapp’s hour-long speech.